Naturalistic Observations in Science Investigations (page 2)
The term nature study is used in the sciences mainly for the observation of plants and animals in their natural settings. There is an obvious problem: How do you find something (plant or animal) in its "natural" condition? Humans have spread out over our planet Earth (and into space) and have changed conditions so much that we have made it hard to find things in their natural settings. You can study planets, stars, and galaxies in their natural conditions because there is nothing we can do to change them. Such a study is clearly naturalistic observation. While you cannot experiment with the stars, constellations, or planets, you can observe them and report on what you observe.
Studying Animals and Plants
Bird watching can be a good kind of naturalistic observation, even in and around big cities. Many people find observing birds fascinating. There appears to be great variety in the way birds get along in their settings—what they feed upon, their nesting habits, their mating habits, their plumage, and so on.
If you live in or near the country, there are many opportunities in fields, woods, and streams for naturalistic observation. An important limit in such observations is to try to observe the plants or animals in ways that do not disturb them as they go about their natural ways. In contrast with experimenting, you try not to change the object of your investigation.
On what kinds of plants does a wild rabbit feed? How many baby rabbits does a wild female rabbit have at one birthing? How often does she bear young? In what seasons of the year? How many of the young live long enough to mature and to reproduce? What other animals such as foxes and hawks prey on rabbits?
Finding answers to such questions is all part of doing naturalistic observation for a science project. This kind of observation can be a good way to do science, and it has been the result of much of what we know about the world around us. Can it be done in a city or town? Yes, but there it is sometimes harder to find plants and animals in their natural conditions. Trying to observe insects or angleworms (earthworms) in a natural setting could be a fairly good project, assuming the area has not been sprayed with insecticides or is not too heavily fertilized. Or, if you do attempt such a study, you might want to include the weed killer or fertilizer as part of the "natural" conditions under which the worms or insects now exist.
Why do naturalistic observation? As early European explorers went around the world, they discovered a great many species of plants and animals that they had not seen before. They gathered specimens and put them on display in zoos and museums to enable many other people to understand about the great variety of species in existence. Always, there were questions about how and why all of this great variety came to be. Scientists make much of trying to answer such questions, as we will explore later in the themes of cause or causality.
These days it is especially hard to find people in natural settings for observation. Yes) anthropologists work at doing this) but far from big cities and other "modern" places. You may ask) Isn't it "natural" by now for people to live in big cities? In a way) that's right. Humans are moving into different ways of living) but we are still part of nature.
As these examples show, it is still possible to do naturalistic observation scientifically. However, it takes a lot of skill and determination to find and observe suitable subjects. As in any scientific investigation, record-keeping is important in naturalistic observation. Methods include note-taking, sketching, still photography, videotape, and audiotape.
Collecting and Classifying
Beyond naturalistic observation are two important science activities, collecting and classifying. Although collecting specimens is somewhat different from naturalistic observation) the two activities often go hand in hand, especially when it comes to the collection and classification of rock, mineral, plant, or animal specimens. Also, a person who has made several observations of anything has a collection of observations, even though nothing may have been collected.
Scientific classifiers use names, numbers, or other symbols to organize like and unlike materials. Finding names, or making up names, becomes an important problem in some fields of science, like chemistry or biology. Of course, the names do not come first: the first problem is to classify the things usefully.
Think about a collection of rock and mineral specimens numbering from several dozen to several hundred. There is no single, correct way to classify them, even though a scientific classification that may appear to be the "correct" one already exists. A collection may be classified in many different ways according to anyone or more of the following characteristics or criteria:
- Size of specimen
- Crystalline form
- Chemical composition
- Density or specific gravity
- Fossil content
- Geological origin
- Geographical origin
- Money value
- Other criteria
The needs or purposes of the person doing the classifying usually determine the kind of classification used. This does not mean that there is something wrong with a standard scientific classification. Classifications usually help scientists satisfy certain specific needs:
- To help show relations between different subgroups (such as species or genus in biology)
- To help make communication about the things clear and accurate
There are good reasons for using scientific names for flowering plants, for example, because of the confusion caused by their common names. Also, since scientific classifications and names are widely published, many people find them useful for nonscientific purposes. You should know about them and use them where they will serve you best. Even so, you may find that you have very good reason for working out your own classification for your own special purposes. For example, you might classify insects in your locality several different ways:
- Those that attack garden plants and those that do not, or are beneficial
- Those that are "pests" to campers or picnickers and those that are not
- Those that attack other insects and perhaps help to control them
Is such a collection and classification a science investigation? Not necessarily. It may be only a reporting of facts or information that other people have already discovered.
A collection and/or classification may be acceptable as a science investigation when it is used to test a hypothesis or to prove something. Many important scientific discoveries or hypotheses have been largely based upon the collecting and classifying of specimens. Ideas about the evolution of species proposed by the nineteenth-century English naturalist Charles Darwin is an important example.
A collection may also be called a survey. In the next chapter we will explore the many ways in which surveys may be used as scientific methods.
Washington Virtual Academies
Tuition-free online school for Washington students.
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- The Homework Debate
- First Grade Sight Words List